Strengths & Limitations of the In-depth Interview Method: An Overview

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 56-57).


The potential advantages or strengths of the in-depth interview (IDI) method reside in three key areas: (1) the interviewer–interviewee relationship, (2) the interview itself, and (3) the analytical component Two people talkingof the process. The relative closeness of the interviewer–interviewee relationship that is developed in the IDI method potentially increases the credibility of the data by reducing response biases (e.g., distortion in the outcomes due to responses that are considered socially acceptable, such as “I attend church weekly,” acquiescence [i.e., tendency to agree], and satisficing [i.e., providing an easy “don’t know” answer to avoid the extra cognitive burden to carefully think through what is being asked]) and nonresponse, while also increasing question–answer validity (i.e., the interviewee’s correct interpretation of the interviewer’s question).

An additional strength of the IDI method is the flexibility of the interview format, which allows the interviewer to tailor the order in which questions are asked, modify the question wording as appropriate, ask follow-up questions to clarify interviewees’ responses, and use indirect questions (e.g., the use of projective techniques) to stimulate subconscious opinions or recall. It should be noted, however, that “flexibility” does not mean a willy-nilly approach to interviewing, and, indeed, the interviewer should employ quality measures such as those outlined in “Applying a Quality Framework to the In-depth Interview Method.”

A third key strength of the IDI method—analyzability of the data—is a byproduct of the interviewer–interviewee relationship and the depth of interviewing techniques, which produce a granularity in the IDI data that is rich in fine details and serves as the basis for deciphering the narrative within each interview. These details also enable researchers to readily identify where they agree or disagree with the meanings of codes and themes associated with specific responses, which ultimately leads to the identification of themes and connections across interview participants.


The IDI method also presents challenges and limitations that deserve the researcher’s attention. The most important, from a Total Quality Framework standpoint, has to do with what is also considered a key strength of the IDI method: the interviewer–interviewee relationship. There are two key aspects of the relationship that can potentially limit (or even undermine) the effectiveness of the IDI method: the interviewer and the social context. The main issue with respect to the interviewer is his/her potential for biasing the information that is gathered. This can happen due to  (a) personal characteristics such as gender, age, race, ethnicity, and education (e.g., a 60-year-old Caucasian male interviewer may stifle or skew responses from young, female, African American participants); (b) personal values or beliefs (e.g., an interviewer with strongly held beliefs about global warming and its damaging impact on the environment may “tune out” or misconstrue the comments from interviewees who believe global warming is a myth); and/or (c) other factors (e.g., an interviewer’s stereotyping, misinterpreting, and/or presumptions about the interviewee based solely on the interviewee’s outward appearance). Any of these characteristics may negatively influence an interviewee’s responses to the researcher’s questions and/or the accuracy of the interviewer’s data gathering. A result of these interviewer effects may be the “difficulty of seeing the people as complex, and . . . a reduction of their humanity to a stereotypical, flat, one-dimensional paradigm” (Krumer-Nevo, 2002, p. 315).

The second key area of concern with the IDI method is related to the broader social context of the relationship, particularly what Kvale (2006) calls the “power dynamics” within the interview environment, characterized by the possibility of “a one-way dialogue” whereby “the interviewer rules the interview” (p. 484). It is important, therefore, for the researcher to carefully consider the social interactions that are integral to the interviewing process and the possible impact these interactions may have on the credibility of an IDI study. For example, the trained interviewer will maximize the social interaction by utilizing positive engagement techniques such as establishing rapport (i.e., being approachable), asking thoughtful questions that indicate the interviewer is listening carefully to the interviewee, and knowing when to stay silent and let the interviewee talk freely.

Krumer-Nevo, M. (2002). The arena of othering: A life-story study with women living in poverty and social marginality. Qualitative Social Work, 1(3), 303–318.

Kvale, S. (2006). Dominance through interviews and dialogues. Qualitative Inquiry, 12(3), 480–500.

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